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narrower limits than we might at first suppose. The advantages of wealth, and power, and knowledge, may be measured out to different men in very unequal portions. But there is one distinction, and that too of the highest lustre, which is equally open to the attainment of all; I mean that which is given by the possession of a benevolent heart. You may not be able to follow one man in the eagle flight of his genius; you cannot perhaps aspire to that dignity and preeminence to which the wisdom of another is justly entitled ; you cannot vie with a third in opulence and splendour, or in that power of doing good which is given to him by his wealth. But there is one thing in which, humble though you may be in your powers, and restricted in your means, there is one thing
, in which you may yet equal, nay, surpass them all. It is in being delighted to contemplate, and as far as in your power to increase, the happiness of others. Nor will any one think this quality unimportant, who observes the dignity which is attached to it in every page of the gospel. It is one of the two commandments on which hang all the law and the prophets. It is the virtue, which under the name of benevolence, or love to our neighbour, implies all others. It is the charity without which we are nothing; the charity which never fails; which when the gems of monarchs shall grow dim, and the laurel of earthly renown shall wither, will still endure in undecaying lustre; the charity,
which when faith itself shall be lost in sight, and hope be swallowed up in fruition, shall still survive, and constitute the happiness of heaven itself.
Let us give our present attention to the nature, extent, and limitations, of this all important virtue, and to the motives which we have to attempt its acquisition.
“ Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” This statement of the doctrine of benevolence, like all the precepts of our Lord, is admirably simple, comprehensive, and practicable. He does not tell us to fix our affections on an abstract and metaphysical idea of “being in general.” Nor does he, with those in modern days who have attempted to improve on his precepts, confound the motive with the rule and criterion of action, and destroy all the particular affections toward father, brother and friend, by telling us that in every action we are to be governed by a consideration of its effects on the general good of the whole human race. Nor does he, with other moralists, narrow virtue to the mere love of country, or an exclusive attachment to our relatives and friends. But a rule is given of universal application, which extends to every possible case, and comes home at once to the feelings and comprehension of every
“ Thou shalt love thy neighbour ;" that is,
6 your love must commence with that part of mankind, with that part of your country, which comes within the sphere of your influence.
The nature and extent of this affection are determined by the words of the precept with the greatest precision. “ Thou shalt love thy neighbour.” If any one should ask what is the nature of this love, he is only to appeal to his own feelings; and whatever he would esteem an act of love from his neighbour towards him, that is precisely the kind of love which he is to exercise towards his neighbour. If he need any
farther commentary, let him read the touching and inimitable tale of the good Samaritan; and he will learn who it is that is his neighbour, and what is the kind of love which he is to exercise. If then he should ask, what is the extent and degree of this love, he will find the limitations of the rule in its own words ; “ thou shalt love thy neighbour as
; thyself.” In the first place let it be observed, you are not required to love your neighbour more than yourself. Some degree of self love the precept evidently supposes necessary and justifiable. The love, therefore, which we are called on to exercise, is not to be in such a sense disinterested as to require us to abandon all consideration of our own happiness. We are committed, if I may so speak, in charge to ourselves. We are made the guardians of our own happiness. Our actions will more affect ourselves than they possibly can all other beings of the human race ; and the general good of all is most effectually promoted by each individual paying a just, but, remember, not an exclusive
regard, to himself. The nature of selfishness may be sometimes misunderstood. It does not consist in having a proper regard to ourselves; but in having no regard to any one but ourselves. We may, therefore, most clearly exhort men at the same time to a prudent concern for their own happiness, in perfect consistency with our exhortations that they should have a sincere and affectionate regard for the happiness of others.
In the second place the precept does not imply that we should, in a strict sense, love our neighbour as much as ourselves. This is only saying, that the precept does not go the extravagant length of asserting that we must literally take as much concern in the affairs of our neighbour as in our own. It seems simply to mean, - Thou shalt love thy neighbour" in a similar, proportional manner, as really and truly, as thou lovest thyself. In every deliberate plan and pursuit in life, we must take our neighbour's interest as truly into the account as our own; and only so far love ourselves, as is consistent with a sincere interest in the happiness of others. In this view of the subject, it seems to be only an extension of the principle on which the precept is founded ; is founded ; " whatever
would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them." An appeal is here made to our self-love, to determine what love we should give to our neighbour. As much affection, sympathy, and regard, as you would wish to receive from others, that is the measure and rule of the affection, which you should give to them. As much interest in the welfare of the community as you would wish every other man should take, just so much should
you feel. The same love to mankind which you, as a member of the human race, would wish to find in all your brethren, must you yourself possess. In this view of the subject, the law of benevolence will require that we should be governed by a sincere regard to the highest good of all whose happiness it is in our power to affect ; for this is
precisely the affection which we should each of us wish every
other man to cherish. The benevolent man, on these principles, is one who delights in the contemplation of happiness, and feels it his duty to produce the highest possible degree of it among mankind. He has escaped from all feelings of exclusive self-love. He considers himself as a part of one great family. He takes as real an interest in the joys and sorrows, the interests and pursuits, the hopes and fears, of his neighbour, as in his own. It is the wish nearest his heart to make himself, and those around him, and as far as his influence extends, the whole human race, enlightened and happy. Nothing, therefore, which interests the happiness of mankind is indifferent to him. No creature of God is so humble, that his kind actions, or at least his good wishes, do not extend to him. No member of the human race is sunk so low, even by guilt and sin,